By: Jake Seiden
Three girls–aged fourteen–sit around a table in a low ceil- inged, empty apartment, slurping orange bourbon from perspiring cups. Natalie peels the curling blue paint off the tabletop so the sur- face is covered with little white swatches, like eyes rolled back in your head. Her friends are named Mim and Francine. They all are too thin and too blond and too pretty, in way that is almost premonitory.
“This is the ugliest fucking room I’ve ever seen,” Mim coughs around a burning, blended mouthful of liquor.
“Thanks,” says Natalie. “Lucas did it.”
Lucas is an interior decorator, married to Natalie’s sister. He and Marie met at a party a year and a half ago–they were drunk when they slept together the first time, in one of Marie’s empty studio apartments in downtown Detroit. The bare wooden floor left bruises the size of tangerines in the small of Marie’s back. That was the first apartment of hers that he decorated; he filled the rooms with broad dark mahogany wardrobes and with tall mirrors that leaned instead of hanged. He left the floors uncarpeted and for the weeks they spent together painting the walls and sweeping the corners, he walked bare- foot over the spot where they had lain for the first time. Now he deco- rates all of her apartments, and Marie sells more apartments than ever she had.
On the other side of the table, Francine sighs, flipping her blonde hair casually back over one shoulder with her fingers. She looks down the hallway, at the white bathroom door. A faint steam is rising from beneath it. Francine purses her lips, posing the way celeb- rities do while performing menial tasks on reality television. Francine is always doing shit like that. Playing lovely, Natalie and Mim will say, when she isn’t around. The whole dumb-show routine drives the two girls fucking mad.
“Jeezus Christ,” Francine whines, stretching one long palearm onto the table, resting her cheek against the soft inside of her el- bow. “What’s he doing in there? It’s been like 15 minutes.” Mim rolls her eyes at Natalie, as if to say: Who is she acting for? No one is even watching her.
She says, “He’s probably masturbating. Guys do it all the time.” As if to underline her point, Mim drops her hands into her lap and makes a motion like she’s shucking corn. Natalie chokes on an- other mouthful of bourbon, laughing. Red mist rises into her cheeks. Francine is staring at the bathroom door.
Mike is an eleventh grader; a friend Mim’s. They met a few weeks before at Union, the +16 discotheque where most of the Whea- ton youth waste their weekends. It’s a landmark of sorts–Natalie’s father used to hang around there when he was a student at St. Giles High School. Mike has a table there where he’ll deals pot to any ju- nior highs that can get past the bouncer. Mike’s a bit of a legend at the high school. He’s a reedy, ugly kid with a fair bit of acne growing on his hollow cheeks, but someone once walked in on Christie Reighley blowing him in the handicap stall at a club. Christie–a pageant girl since her mother decided on her third birthday that pageants were more economically sound than the lottery–tried to shrug it off. But though she bragged to everyone that how five-minutes of head got her an ounce, free of charge, Mike was the one getting the high-fives and catcalls between classes.
He’d appeared at the apartment dripping with perspiration with a jack-o-lantern’s grin on his face and a handle in each hand. It certainly was hot out there, beneath the industrial summer smog.
“Know where a guy can get a shower?” he asked, flashing a smile that was very probably related to the one that tricked Christie Reighley into ruining the knees on her new leggings. Mim relieved him of the clear bottles of 80 proof while Natalie pointed down the hallway at the bathroom.
“You’re lucky,” she said. “No one lives here, but my sister
and Lucas ‘break in’ every apartment for a week or two before they sell it. They think it’s good luck, or something. There’s probably a towel or two in there already.”
Mike whistled as he entered the apartment. It was a nice one–Marie thought it would sell soon, despite its poor location (next to the Dingell Medical Center, where there was a constant in- and out-flux of whirring ambulances). Lucas had done it all in baby col- ors: baby blue, baby green, pink. The trimmings all were in white, and the furniture all was fluffy and cute. Reaching up one wiry arm, Mike caressed the low-hanging ceiling. Catching sight of Francine, he turned to Mim with his eyebrows raised. Mim loosed a disgusted sort of snort.
“Fine. I’ll introduce you. But only after you take a shower, like a good little boy.” She smiled wickedly. “Francine’s a Jew,” she told him. “And you smell like swine.”
Mike’s greatest ambition was to marry someone tall and blonde. This was something he picked up working weekends at his uncle’s pawnshop, where he had been exposed to a clowder of Swed- ish prostitutes. Mike’s uncle bought the wallets and state-issued IDs they occasionally pinched while their clients praised God and a couple of lesser-known idols with dirty names (Ooo God yes, Ooo Fuck yes, Ooo Shit yes, O…!). Once, after the golden girls had gone, Mike’s uncle warned him: There’s just no keeping safe from the Swedes, Mikey–but he said it with a big toothy grin squirming around in his mouth.
“Have you ever seen one before?”
It is Francine who asks the question, snapping the heavy silence they were all caught in like a piece of glass beneath her heel. She’s considering the bottom of her cup–now empty of bourbon–and sweating gently. Little beads of perspiration are stuck like jewels on each of her temples.
“Seen a what?” Mim asks.
It’s nearly five o’clock, and the girls are feeling slightly drunk. Francine smiles boldly as she pulls the bottle of bourbon to- wards her. Her arm passes through a swatch of light that tumbles in through a window. The bright rectangle hangs over the table and spills onto the floor, like the melting clock in that painting by Dali. Natalie watches the tiny hairs on Francine’s arm twinkle in the fading sunlight, and laughs as she suddenly realizes what Francine means. While Mim watches, Natalie motions first to the bathroom, and then down at her crotch. They all can hear the noise of the shower splash- ing water over Mike–fat droplets falling off his chin–tracing bright wet paths through the patches of hair on his chest and around his nipples–curving down and around the jutting structure of his hips- -beating down upon the tops of his feet–whirlpooling finally down the drain.
Mim plucks out an eyebrow. She peers at it the way a fortu- neteller might consider a client’s palm. Francine sucks down her fifth, or maybe sixth shot of bourbon. Say what you will, Natalie thinks. The bitch can fucking drink. Grimacing, Francine rubs a runner of bourbon from the corner of her lip, then arches back in her chair to glance at the bathroom door. Still, a thin steam rises up from beneath the white door–wispy fingers reach towards the girls briefly before spinning out into invisibility. She turns back to the others. She’s bit- ing the inside of her pale, creamy cheek, biting it prettily.
“Cut the shit, Francine.” The command comes out harsher than Natalie meant it; her mouth has suddenly gone dry. “Pour me a shot. And one for Mim, too.”
Francine fills their cups. Something has changed. The girls drink as if bracing themselves for some difficult task–not like three eighth graders out in the city for a night alone, but like Lewis and Clarke and that Native American chick (Sacagawea) in the hour be- fore setting out down some yet uncharted, vicious rapids–they drink like those preparing to see something they’d always known existed but only ever had the opportunity to imagine.
When the three of them knock against the bathroom door, it opens at their gentle touch. It was never locked. A thick blanket of steam pours out around their ankles, ensnaring them. They step inside together, and someone of them shuts the door behind. For a moment, Natalie wonders if they haven’t stepped into another world. The air is as filled with mist as a deep cavern is with darkness so the girls are almost blinded by it–the jungly heat weighs heavily on their shoul- ders and causes their clothes to cling uncomfortably to their peach skins–the vapor is infusing with a heady musk scent that dries their tongues and crowds inside their skulls–the dew gathers atop their rounded lips like a flight along a telephone wire.
An incorporeal voice speaks aloud: “What took you so long?” The words are as forceful as the Wizard’s in Oz. Behind the fog, Mike now becomes visible. He stands naked in the shower, with- out the curtain pulled to cover him. Mim’s eyes become entangled in the dark patches of hair on his chest and beneath his belly button- -Francine watches the halo of broken vapor dance around his head- -Natalie gasps as if choking: “Oh.”
The entire bathroom is soaked with humidity. The shower noisily dumps buckets of steaming hot water down the drain in waste. The white tiles on the floor are slick and slimy and unstable. Beside the foot of the sink rests a fluffy blue bathmat, as seemingly tired as a loyal mutt that’s run itself almost to death in the summer heat.
And in the tub, standing naked, is Mike. He wears his smile like a robe. He speaks: ”I thought something like this was in the cards.” He’s looking at Mim and at Natalie too, but mostly he keeps his eyes trained on pretty, posing Francine. “I brought a few Plan Bs.” He steps from the tub and approaches the girls. They watch him with- out retreating, and their faces are blotchy with the heat, with curiosity and embarrassment. They consider his cock as if it were addressing them–as if it were capable of speech and planning–as if it had been the one to fill Mike’s jeans with drugstore pills.
Mike reaches out one dripping wet hand to touch Francine’s shoulder. Where he touches her, his finger’s damp makes the thin white cloth of her shirt diaphanous. His cock is bobbing in the silence like a wand used in dowsing. He turns so that it points at each of them in turn.
Now the noise of the shower grows louder, and a thicker mist fills the room. Slowly, over the noise of the shower, another, stranger sounf rises–one which does not belong here in the wet heat of downtown Detroit. It is faint, but all the girls can hear it, and so can the boy. It is the music of a rainforest: mosquitoic melodies and the rhythmic pattering of raindrops on widespread leaves. Mim becomes frightened by the sound. She turns around, looking for the door, but cannot find it in the mists. A hand falls upon her shoulder, stalling her search–she opens her mouth to scream but the fog rushes in to hide her voice. She turns again and finds Francine’s face: Francine’s blond hair stick limply to her cheeks; her eyes are wide and green and wild; she smiles, and Mim can see her canines are larger now than they were before–and sharp. Francine pulls Mim forward so that their lips can meet. Her pink tongue slides into Mim’s mouth and tickles the ridges behind her front teeth. The kiss tastes as sweet and tangy as fresh fruit. It is her first kiss, and it is gentle, but the hand on her ass squeezes urgently, rubbing out the fear and reluctance and wonder from Mim’s ignorant body. There is a fire burning there, an ambitious one, which means to burn long and bright.
Mim throws her arm around Francine’s neck and pulls her closer, biting at her lower lip. When finally the two pull away, Mim’s eyes are as wild and green as Francine’s. Natalie and Mike walk to- wards them through the mist, and without speaking, the three girls encircle Mike. They smile with some satire, as if they’d only under- stood the rules to a very simple, childish game, and there is some- thing fae in those smiles.
Mim says, “I can see your cock, Mike.”
“I can see your penis,” Natalie giggles.
Francine flicks the tip of his cock with one sharp fingernail:
“I can see your pussystick.”
When he laughs, the girls smile too. They approach him
slowly, like lionesses closing in on a favorite prey. They take his body and lay it gently on the ground. Francine kisses his mouth. Mim and Natalie trace their unpainted fingernails across his goose-pimpled flesh. The mists grow so thick that when one of them rises to straddle Mike, we cannot see her face.
Soon the fog closes over them completely, stealing away the sight of their bodies. But though their figures have gone, their noises remain, reverberating through the opaque mists and echoing against the walls. Moans and grunts, barks and hisses–these are not the cries of young people, not even young people playing at passion. No, these are more like the noises of thick beasts and jungle snakes–of faer- ies and hunters–of fantastic creatures lost for a moment in another world.and maybe it was a false alarm and if you go back now he’ll still be talking like you never left but you wait just in case.